News that an affordable-housing development would be built in an established Martinez neighborhood left homeowners upset and clamoring for answers a year ago.
Today, negative perceptions of the Magnolia Trace subdivision persist for many area residents as construction on the 50 single-family rental homes off Old Ferry Road is complete.
“I think they may (feel) even more strongly because it’s about to happen,” said Sandra Kelly, who lives on Old Ferry Road with her husband. “People could be moving in there any day.”
Residents became aware in late 2011 that the development, spanning 15 acres, would consist of three- and four-bedroom homes available at a lower rent than comparable housing. In return, developers Affordable Equity Partners would be eligible to receive tax credits through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
A local leasing agent for the development referred all inquiries to the AEP headquarters in Columbia, Mo. Multiple attempts to reach company officials were unsuccessful.
Kelly said she fears declining property values and an increase in crime once renters move in.
“We felt that we would spend our retirement years here in this safe little community where we wouldn’t have to be afraid of going out our door,” she said. “I’m just not sure that’s the same feeling that we have anymore.”
County officials attribute community opposition to what commission Chairman Ron Cross called “misinformation.”
“It’s not a government project,” Cross said. “It is a private-sector project.
“They get their reimbursement for the lower rents from these large corporations who buy the tax credits. It’s to (the developer’s) benefit to keep everything in good shape.”
Cross said the nearly 300 applicants for the housing units included local firefighters and police officers.
Certificates of occupancy have been issued for all 50 homes and a clubhouse in Magnolia Trace, signaling the completion of construction, said Columbia County Development Services Director Richard Harmon.
There were some water-drainage issues for homes abutting the property during the building phase, Harmon said, but those problems have been rectified.
A move-in date for the development has not been announced.
In order to live in Magnolia Trace, tenants must be employed and make $40,000 or less annually. Applicants also are subject to credit and criminal background checks, Cross said.
Many neighbors remain adamant that the development could turn into a complex like the crime-riddled Cherry Tree Crossing in Augusta.
Cheryl Stewart, who lives near the rental homes, said her son wants her to sell the home she’s lived in for 32 years.
“If I wanted to move, I would not be able to get what I needed to get out of it to go buy something else because of the depreciation,” said Stewart.
She said several homes in her area have gone on the market in the past year and haven’t sold, which she blamed on the proximity to Magnolia Trace.
Many also think county officials were underhanded in getting the project approved.
In June 2010, Cross and District 2 Commissioner Trey Allen met with AEP representatives about the project before commissioners approved a resolution in support of it.
“They went behind everyone’s back,” said Crestview Drive resident Tom Sauls.
Cross said the county likely would have faced a legal challenge under the federal Fair Housing Act if they had denied the request.
“We didn’t have any basic right of refusal in the first place,” Cross said. “We just didn’t see any reason to fight it because we really thought it would be a benefit to the working individuals and families.”
An attorney hired by the county in Dec. 2011 to review the development said officials had no legal recourse to halt it.
Both sides seem to agree on the current aesthetic appeal of Magnolia Trace, where brick homes line landscaped lots with sidewalks on lighted streets.
“I have never seen a subdivision quite like this, and that’s a positive statement,” Harmon said. “As far as the construction of it, the homes and the landscaping are remarkable.”
Cross said he hopes the development maintains that appearance.
“The main thing I want to see is how it will be six months and a year later after it’s occupied,” Cross said. “My expectations are that people will take pride in the neighborhood and see they’ve got a new place to live.”